Trafraout, Ait Mansour Gorge and the Palm Valley Oasis

An early morning departure from Taroudant on the road to Tafraout took us through the outskirts of the city – passing school children and livestock on the road, as well as a charcoal kiln operation just beginning to belch smoke. The Anti-Atlas range appeared quickly and we began a climb to start quite possibly the most beautiful drive so far. A fitting beginning to one of the best days on the trip. 

The route to Tafraout is spectacular. PreCambrian rocks in bedding planes subjected to massive deformation in the past, mountain peaks, valleys – absolutely breath taking colours.

One sobering detail is the lack of people. The road into Tafraout travels through an area where climate change has made the biggest impact on any areas I have visited on the planet. Up until 50-60 years ago the area in the Anti- Atlas was farmed intensively, a rich producer of  agricultural products.

Climate change has resulted in extreme drought conditions gradually spreading over the region. The terraces that the vanished farmers created for their crops still remain, as do Argon trees which can go dormant for years and resprout from the base when the rains come. It may be a while.

Even the prickly pear cactus is wilting. Small villages remain here and there in the landscape – many deserted at least partially – its inhabitants moved to the city in search of a way to make a living.

Once we reached Tafraout we took a quick orientation walk through the market before departing the city for the famous Ait Mansour Gorge Palm Valley Oasis and its accompanying villages.

A different vibe in the village, more conservative dress for women and men with black covering most women from head to foot. A lovely surprise was a face scarf blowing aside for a moment revealing a face of delicate beauty with impeccable makeup and a glimpse of what looked like a designer dress.

 Another truly memorably drive to Ait Mansour Gorge, complete with whiplash curves.

The drop down into the Palm Valley oasis in the gorge was stunning. The villages in this oasis are scattered along the river flowing through the bottom of the gorge. At one point 3000 people lived here, now 300 remain.

We were met by a lovely man who led us along the gorge bottom to his home where we enjoyed a couscous and chicken lunch and chatted with his family.

A magical lunch in a magical place. Our walk back though the oasis to our transport was a peaceful one as most of the villages inhabitants were at the local market in Tafraout purchasing supplies.

One final stop on our ride back was at Chapeau du Napoleon -a village set under a huge rock escarpment resembling Napoleons hat. An odd place – large more opulent homes, all shuttered and locked up.

A ghost town, inhabited only by wealthy people in the summer months. Not a positive impact on the community. Our local guide was excellent as always and we enjoyed a day that not many get to experience. Icing on the cake was finally finding my Berber rug in a local shop – bargaining was fun and the shop owner high fived me when we came to an agreement 🙂 The rug is now carefully packaged and ready for its trip home.

Tomorrow we leave for the coastal town of Essaouira – until then Inshallah 

Dawn in Trafraout